One evening last summer I sat outside in my brother’s driveway, watching the sunset on the west side while my bro tried to repair the window on his car door. In this working-class pocket of the rapidly growing suburbs of ‘burque, young brown families went about their evening. Children rode their bikes, parents fixed their cars and folks say “wassup” to each other from driveways, across streets and gravel-landscaped front lawns. My brother told me about the folks who live on his street. They look out for each other, he said. And a lot of them had grown up in the South Valley like we had. When I was a kid, that scene was the epitome of what I imagined for myself, my family, our future—rows of homes where young people tried to make a good life in this world, where children could play in the street because there was no drug dealing, no gang graffiti, none of the visible signs of the dangers of living in the hood. In my 13-year-old head, I thought I’d be married to a nice boy from the neighborhood, moved to a street like my brother’s and popped out a couple of kids by the time I was 29. That was what barrio dreams were made of. At least mine were.
My move to LA was the 6th cross-country move I’ve made since 1991. After college, the longest I’ve stayed in one place was three years and each of those moves were mostly guided by my particular relationship to the academy at the time. Each move required me to pack up my things, to throw away stuff I would (probably) not need, to confront my past through items stashed in backs of closets, in old shoe boxes, and under piles of papers. There’s something about moving that forces you to reevaluate your life.
Moving brings opportunities for new and exciting experiences. But there are also costs, and the biggest of them are not monetary. Moving forces you to leave family, friends, love, community behind. I have missed out on the day-to-day stories told by my grandparents, never-ending bingo sessions with my papá, chatting over tea with my mom, sipping beers with my brothers, playing video games with my nephew. I was not (will not be) there to see close friends finish their dissertations and become profesores, to chat with them over coffee while we attempt to do work, to celebrate birthdays and engagements and the small, but incredibly significant academic achievements along the way that are huge for us in the moment. I’ve seen love and possibilities of love lost because he or I moved, and long-distance relationships were not/no longer an option.
My community is scattered across the country because I am not the only one who has moved. And what I’ve come to depend on, to look forward to, is telephone conversation and the occasional visit, holiday, research trip or conference when we can chill in person. Each time I moved I was able to make new friends/community, and of course, I was able to be there for a dissertation or two, the completion of exams, etc. But LA will not be the last city I will live in. Academics seem to move all over the place, in pursuit of the job or tenure or something like that. My 13-year-old self is long gone. What is left of those barrio dreams? Perhaps I traded them in to follow academic rainbows instead, but I’m not sure what’s at the end—certainly not a pot of gold. Whatever it is, I sure hope it’s worth all this moving.